“What programming language should I study next? What framework?” I occasionally receive emails from younger — and not so young — readers alike asking me for guidance about such matters. “Use the right tool for the job” is the correct answer, but it’s cheap advice when there are a plethora of tools seemingly right for the job. For most people these days the job at hand is of course web application development.
Should they study Ruby and Ruby on Rails? Or Python and Django? How about C# 4.0 and ASP.NET MVC? Maybe CakePHP? Java and Stripes? And how about more exotic choices like Clojure and Compojure or Scala and Lift?
With very few exceptions, in 2010, it’s hard to choose a combination of semi-popular technologies that couldn’t do the job. Does it really make a huge difference if you choose to study Ruby on Rails or Django? In all honesty, despite all the existing differences, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you become proficient with one of these tools, you will be adequately equipped to approach most web development tasks. Your experience as a server-side developer will be the bottleneck, not your framework of choice.
The real reason why I get asked these questions though, is that these people are mostly looking for a silver bullet, a language-framework combo that will magically allow them to create fantastic web applications in a matter of weeks. They are often after a shortcut, but there is no royal path to web programming.
When I think about the future of programming languages, I envision Babel not people talking Esperanto. We are destined to live in a technological world were there will be many valid server-side options, which are similar yet different enough to justify their own existence and that of their respective communities.
Recently Heroku announced beta support for Node1. It’s a risk on their part, but one worth taking in my opinion. If nothing else, at the very least, Rails developers deploying on Heroku will have the option to integrate Node to increase scalability and performance.
 For a terrific demo of a Cappuccino + Node application deployed on Heroku, check out GitHub Issues.
Antonio Cangiano is a Software Development Manager at IBM. He authored Ruby on Rails for Microsoft Developers (Wrox, 2009) and Technical Blogging (The Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2012, 2019). He is also the Marketing Lead for Cognitive Class, an educational initiative which he helped grow from zero to over 1 Million students. You can follow him on Twitter.